from Weekly News Update on the Americas

At 4 AM on Aug. 16, some 300 campesinos from El Chore in Bolivia’s Santa Cruz department seized control of a British Petroleum (BP) oil production facility in the Santa Rosa del Sara region of Santa Cruz. The campesinos were demanding recognition and titling of their land, the expulsion of large landholders, construction of a road, $5 million for agricultural production and “fulfillment of the mandate” of a July 18 referendum in which Bolivian voters approved national control of gas and other resources. The company immediately issued a communique saying it was halting operations at the Humberto Suarez Roca facility “to safeguard the security of the personnel and the campesinos who are blocking the entrance.” The next day, Aug. 17, the campesinos also took over the facility’s Patujusal and Los Cusis oilfields. The facility, operated by BP’s Chaco-Amoco subsidiary, normally produces 2,000 barrels of oil a day. The campesinos ended their takeover late on Aug. 18 after reaching an agreement with the Santa Cruz governor’s office and the national government. (, Aug. 16; Los Tiempos, Cochabamba, Aug. 19; AFP, DPA, Reuters, Aug. 17, 18)

Late on Aug. 18, some 300 residents of Villamontes in Tarija department stormed the San Antonio gas compression plant, operated by the Transredes company, and shut down its valves, cutting off gas flow to the departmental capital, Tarija, as well as to Argentina and Brazil. The Villamontes residents are demanding construction of a highway linking Tarija to Paraguay via Villamontes. Residents began a civic strike on Aug. 10 or 11 after trying for more than eight months to get the government to respond to their demands. They also set up blockades along local roads leading to Argentina and Paraguay. The shutdown of the valves came at the close of a local assembly of the Villamontes Strike Committee where members discussed how to step up the pressure. (Los Tiempos, AP, Aug. 18)

Bolivian president Carlos Mesa Gisbert responded to the protest actions on Aug. 19 by sending military personnel to all the gas and oil facilities in the country to prevent new takeovers. In Santa Cruz, the government had already sent heavily armed police and military agents to protect the Palmasola refinery after the Santa Cruz Federation of Neighborhood Boards (FEJUVE) staged a massive march to the refinery and threatened to take it over to protest rising fuel prices. (, Aug. 18) On Aug. 19, bus drivers in Oruro department went on strike and marched through the departmental capital to demand that Mesa fulfill a promise to freeze fuel prices. Some 20 drivers in Oruro began a hunger strike on Aug. 20. Drivers are mobilizing across the country; they are planning a hunger strike and marches in La Paz and El Alto starting on Aug. 23, and have proposed taking over oil and gas refineries to pressure the government. They are also considering a general strike. (Los Tiempos; El Diario, La Paz; Europa Press, Aug. 20)

On Aug. 20, the Villamontes residents ended their protest after reaching an agreement with the government on their demands for the highway construction. Mesa resolved the conflict with the signing in La Paz of an executive decree which instructs the National Highway Service to put the project up for bidding within 180 days. The Brazilian government has agreed to finance the road. At the same time, the government threatened on Aug. 20 to pursue legal charges against those responsible for taking over oilfields or shutting down gas valves. (Los Tiempos, Aug. 21)

On Aug. 18 about 10 members of Bolivia’s Landless Movement (MST) began a hunger strike at the Bolivian Workers Central (COB) headquarters in La Paz to demand the release of MST leader Gabriel Pinto [one of nine suspects accused of instigating or carrying out the June 15 mob lynching of Benjamin Altamirano Calle, mayor of the town of Ayo Ayo in the Altiplano region of La Paz department]. MST members threatened to take over the Madrejones oil well in southern Bolivia if Pinto is not freed. Silvestre Saisari, leader of the MST’s eastern bloc, said members of his organization had already taken over two oil wells.

Leaders of the COB and the Coordinating Committee to Defend the Gas have announced that nationwide mobilizations will begin on Aug. 25 to reject the government’s constant fuel price increases and win the nationalization of Bolivia’s oil and gas resources.(, Aug. 18)

On Aug. 20, the Economic Development Commission of Bolivia’s Chamber of Deputies put a freeze on further discussion of Mesa’s proposed new Hydrocarbons Law, asking the government to address the bill’s shortcomings and submit a new proposal. The proposal leaves too many legal loopholes and gives the president too much power to approve contracts by decree, the deputies said. In addition, as Oscar Arrien of the rightwing Nationalist Revolutionary Movement (MNR) later pointed out, the bill submitted by Mesa provides for taxes and royalties of less than 20% on multinational oil companies, while the July 18 referendum called for taxes and royalties of up to 50%. Mesa responded to the deputies’ decision by threatening to veto any and every law passed by Congress until the Hydrocarbons Law is approved without further modifications. The threat comes as political parties prepare for municipal elections scheduled for Dec. 5; Congress must still make modifications to the electoral code in order to allow the vote to go forward. (, Aug. 20, 21)

Cocalero leader Evo Morales Ayma of the Movement to Socialism (MAS)–which is expected to dominate in the municipal elections–warned that if Mesa continues to “blackmail” Congress, he could follow in the footsteps of his predecessor, Gonzalo Sanchez de Lozada, who fled the country after being ousted in a popular rebellion last Oct. 17. “The president is digging his own grave, he’s throwing the country into confusion, he’s provoking the people to mobilize, to unite. The president should respect the results [of the referendum], recovering the hydrocarbons. If the transnationals want to stay, let them stay, and if we need technology from the oil companies, we’ll have to do a service contract. They can’t keep deciding about the natural resources,” said Morales. (, Aug. 21)

(Weekly News Update on the Americas, Aug. 22)

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Forwarded by WORLD WAR 3 REPORT, Sept. 6, 2004 Reprinting permissible with attribution